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Brown, Beautiful & Blowing Up! Jazz Saxophonist on The Rise! Erisa NicoleI's One To Watch And Hear!

Updated: May 21, 2022

Erisa's many attributes can be described in many words, but I will begin with "spectacular". Upon discovering Erisa Nicole online, I was blown away by her ability to play the saxophone with such power, passion, and skill. Obviously, I'm biased since she's a female saxophonist. Perhaps because I'm female myself. There are women who do things that some believe we are not capable of, and I have deep admiration for them.

I am in no way dismissing the outstanding roles which our amazing men play in our society, but I believe that women do a lot of things as well, and this needs to be acknowledged. In this article, I chose to bring it to the forefront. While I was blown away by Erisa's talent, I was equally impressed with her character. Among all of her qualities, I was most impressed by her love for God. In our conversation, we discussed a lot of things concerning her musical journey and some of the challenges she faces as a female saxophonist. Here is what she shared.

Hi Erisa, how are you doing?  I’m good, how are you? 

Oh, I am having an amazing day. Thank you so much for your time. Of course, no worries at all. 

Are you in San Diego? Yes, and it's hot!  

Oh no! I hear you! Surviving the heat in palm springs in the summertime is a miracle in and of itself! (laughs) Yes! 

First and foremost, I want to thank you again, and I'm honored to be able to speak with such a talented and amazing artist like yourself.  Ah, thank you very much. 

You're welcome. So, tell me Erisa, were you born and raised in San Diego, CA?  Yes, I was born and raised right here in San Diego. 

Awesome! How long have you been playing?  Professionally I've been playing for about 12 years. 

How did you get your start? My father, who is a musician and a pastor, played the organ and piano. When I was about 6 years old, I learned how to play the piano and began playing in church. Around 12 years old, I became classically trained. 

At what age did playing the saxophone become of interest to you?  Around middle school. I wanted to be in the band, so the instrument that I started with was the clarinet. Unfortunately, I hated it. When I told my dad how I felt about playing that instrument, he told me that I had to stick with it because that's the instrument I chose.  

Yes. That's what we call an old-school dad. My dad was just like your dad. He was a pastor; a musician and he was strict. Yes. In my eagerness to become a member of the band, I chose the clarinet without thinking much about it. My desire to be in the band was immense. I thought the band sounded great, and I was excited to be a part of it. 

So, one day, we went to a Thanksgiving concert, and I witnessed a woman playing the saxophone. I was mesmerized when I saw her.  Her name is Angela Christy and she's a gospel saxophonist. That was the first time that I had ever seen a female playing saxophone. After seeing her play, I begged my father to buy me a saxophone for Christmas. 

Did he budge?  Initially, no. Because he had already purchased the clarinet, he kept saying no.  The expectation I had was crushed. I did everything in my power to persuade him that I would practice, but he refused. In my junior year of high school, he finally caved in and bought me a saxophone for Christmas. 

Did you start taking lessons right away?  Initially, I was self-taught. My parents noticed my interest and realized I was serious, so they sought some help, and I was able to take a few lessons here and there. That's how my journey began. 

Wow, that’s awesome! You mentioned that you were classically trained, where did you get your schooling? Although I attended Point Loma Nazarene University here in San Diego, California, most of my musical experience came from playing in church. I'm a church girl.  

Awesome!  Yes, I played for the choir and directed the choir. The interesting thing is, I never really played saxophone in church. Although I primarily play organ and piano, lots of people asked the pastor if I could also play the Sax because, at that time, my dad left that church and went back to our home church. Shortly after that, I began to drift over into a different language, and that is smooth jazz.

Let's talk about your professional career. At what point did you know you wanted to play saxophone for a living? Honestly, I don't view playing saxophone as a job, it’s my passion and purpose. I was created by God to pour the love of God into everyone that I encounter, especially through the music that I play. 

I kind of knew early on that it was my purpose to bless people. I didn't have the full picture, but I knew that it was something special that I was put on this earth to do.

A lady who I referred to as my aunt died of breast cancer. Before she died, she told me that God designed me with the purpose of spreading His word. At that moment, I didn't understand what she meant by that profound statement. But now? I understand what she was trying to say. And yes, God did design me to do this. This is my purpose in life and passion.

Who are some of the people that you have worked with? 

Oh, let's see. I have worked with gospel artists such as Donald Hayes and John P. Kee, and I have opened for Erica Campbell. My smooth jazz credits include Adam Hawley, Nathan East, Jasmine Pink, and JJ Sanseverino. 

Awesome! How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing people. Do you have any current projects out? I do. My single is currently being played on the radio and doing well. I am happy to report that it made the top 100 list of smooth jazz songs.

Congratulations! Yay!!! Yay! What is the name of your single? Thank you! It's entitled “Good Feeling”. It's my first move. Jazz single.

What a great experience to live out your dream! Yes, and I’m super proud of that! I'm thankful to God because my single is doing well.

Do you have any upcoming shows? Yes, I do. I have a show on Sunday at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay right here in San Diego. I also perform at private events, weddings, and birthdays. I will be in Alabama in May for a women's conference, and I will be in Texas in June. Though my local calendar stays full, I'm pushing for more out-of-state and out-of-country events.

What’s your responsibility to this younger generation? To show them that they matter and that they are loved regardless of where they come from. Through my music, my message is that everyone matters. I pour out to others what God has poured into me, and that's his love. I also feel as though it's my responsibility to give back educationally, especially to the younger woman in music and jazz. I feel as though this is important because there’s not a lot of representation of women in jazz.

I will say over the years, women are becoming more popular in the music industry, but the male and female ratio is proportionately unbalanced.

What challenges do you run into regarding being a black women saxophonist? Unfortunately, I've been in several situations where I was kicked out of venues because of being black.

Do you have any examples that you would like to share? Even though they did not specifically say you're kicked out because you're black, the vendor who invited me said I could not play. This is not the first time I've experienced this.

Even today, you would think that it wouldn't be the case, but it’s still around today. So yeah, I'm not going to say that it’s easy because it’s not. Unfortunately, there's a stigma that’s automatically placed on us as people of color. Furthermore, being female makes it more difficult for us to prove our worth in a predominantly male-dominated industry. Oftentimes I find myself having to prove that I belong. Sometimes it's flat-out exhausting. The funny thing is that after they hear me, they say, “Oh yes, she can play!”

My prayer is that men would develop a different mindset when it comes to women musicians. We shouldn't have to prove ourselves simply because we're female. After all, men don't have to do that. When they walk into the room, it is assumed that they can play simply because they are of the male gender. But, when a woman walks into a room, she must prove herself before they give her props.

What saddens me even more is that some men say, “you're only good because you're a girl.” I've gotten that before as well. My counteractive plan is to be well prepared so that when I get on the stage, I give my audience the very best of myself. Whenever I perform, I treat it like my last. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but knowing who you are will help you to handle it. When people are negative, I ignore them and keep it pushing.

Erisa, I think you’re amazing! Thank you, I appreciate that so much. 

My pleasure. What advice would you give an up-and-coming saxophonist? Never allow the opinions of others to dictate the trajectory of your path. Oftentimes we're our worst critics. I've even been guilty of allowing negativity to infiltrate my mind and stain my dreams. Another thing, you're never too old to dream. Regardless of your age, pursue your purpose. Because dream robbers see potential inside of you their primary goal is to tear you down leaving you lifeless and incapacitated. Your job is to stay focused and never allow this to happen. Know who you are and who God is. Created you to be and stand on that.

Brace yourself for this one. In your opinion, what is the reason why most African Americans choose sweet potato pie over pumpkin pie for holidays and how is it different?  You know, that is a question. (laughs) You know, I'm vegan but prior to becoming vegan, I have had both. To me, pumpkin pie has absolutely no flavor whatsoever. (laughs) When I tried it, I couldn't detect any cinnamon or nutmeg. To me, it tastes like wet pumpkin and crust. But honestly, I don't know exactly what it is. I just know that they taste different. Maybe it’s just the flavor of the sweet potato pie that makes it so delicious. 

And there it is! Coming from one of the most talented female saxophonists of this generation. Well said. Erisa, it’s been a pleasure and an honor to speak with you today. You’re an amazing person. I pray that God will continue to bless you in all that He has called you to do on this earth. I pray that The Lord will keep you and your family safe and healthy. Have the best day ever and I’m super proud of you!

Thank you Gina. God bless you as well.

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Erisa Website: Erisa Nicole | Biography — Erisa Nicole

All photos are courtesy of Erisa Nicole

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